Encouraging Online Evangelization

I recently finished reading Brandon Vogt’s The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet and sent to me by the Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program.

The Church and New Media contains a series of essays designed both to show how “the new media” is already being used as a tool of evangelization and to encourage those who have not yet stepped into this arena to do so, providing practical advice for such newbies. Many of the essays’ writers have well-established blogs of their own, make effective use of podcasts and videos, and otherwise engage in activities that disseminate their message far and wide via the internet.

Those who are not yet engaged in one or another form of online ministry will find the most to benefit from in this book. Contributions like the tips for navigating the social net and the New Media rules of parish communication contained in Matt Warner’s chapter, the general diocesan New Media recommendations for Dioceses and Bishops contained in Scot Landry’s chapter, and the examples of different approaches provided in Part II of the book should be of great help to those who have nervousness about approaching a new avenue of ministry.

However, there are some valuable nuggets even for those of us who have long understood the potential for online ministry and have engaged it in various ways. For me, one of the most thought-provoking chapters is the first, written by Fr. Robert Barron, whose online ministry, Word on Fire reaches millions of people. He explores four patterns of resistance and responses thereto (“YouTube heresies”) that those who seek to engage in online ministry are likely to encounter: confusion about the meaning of the word God, confusion about the correct manner of interpreting the Bible, confusion about the relationship between religion and science and confusion about the rapport between religion and violence. I think he is absolutely right that those who would seek to evangelize need to be able to address these sources of confusion with some substance. “When serious minded secularists engage Catholicism, the Church can’t afford to reply to them with comic-book responses.”

The other chapter I think has the most use for all of us – whatever our current level of online ministry – is Brandon Vogt’s conclusion, which explores some of the dangers we all need to be on guard against. While not necessarily new, the reminders about the dangers of narcissism and pride, information overload, and shallowness of relationship are important ones.

I don’t agree with the approach of all of the contributing authors as to either content or style of online ministry, but that simply reflects that how we each approach our ministry online will reflect our individual styles. We are all preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but there are different ways to engage in that preaching. Thus, that I have some disagreement (and in at least one case, strong disagreement) with some of the statements of the contributing authors is neither surprising nor a criticism of the book.

What there can be no disagreement about is the possibilities for reaching people through “the new media” are endless and that the spread of the internet “has removed the geographic and time constraints placed on traditional faith formation.” That is exciting. And if this book helps even a few more to stretch to take advantage of those possibilities, it will be a great success.

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